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Essential to emotional CPR these days is finding digital balance. The pandemic has deepened that challenge as children learn remotely and their carers are forced to further blur home and work life.

Author, adjunct research scholar with the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture and Holy Cross Hackett member, Toni Hassan, spoke recently at Holy Covenant in Belconnen on the pressing topic of families and the digital age. It was part of the Jamison church’s series which explores how to connect and inform the community about mental health strategies to build wholeness.

‘Our home lives are immersed in screens and parents are frustrated by it, often unaware of how devices are designed to be addictive,’ Hassan said.

‘It’s not the fault of children, nor about a lack of will-power. Tech giants have designed it to be addictive and are not really interested in the wellbeing of children. The challenges are compounded by the fact that we live in a highly individualised culture where young people are struggling to belong.’

Picture by Emily Underworld on

‘While screens are salient and their use is socially driven, with outcomes that are rewarding in many ways – with dopamine hits that direct goal-directed behaviour – platforms all ages use are hijacking our ability to form healthy habits,’ Hassan said.

‘The good news is that children’s brains, till about their mid-20s, are really plastic so they can easily become addicted but also change back and form new healthier habits.’

‘Habit formation pivots on the power and influence of the constructed home environment. For example, if I want my children to consume more fruit I make the fruit visible and easy to reach for. And, if I don’t want my kids to eat sugary foods I can make those foods hard to reach. It’s the same with technology. It’s challenging making screens less visible to children but we can set limits on it.’

Other tips shared Hassan shared include:

  • Problem solve as a family around the challenge of technology so it enables children to own the solutions.
  • Work to create alternatives to screens and a rhythm where the whole family has boundaries around screen time and has time offline (parents and carers need to model the change they wish to see).
  • Find ways to spend time together as it also helps the job of establishing boundaries around technology be less of a fight.
  • Use meal times to talk.
  • Support ways for children to be physically active and to enjoy the arts (art and music) that offer whole-body off-screen experiences.

Hassan’s teenage son, Oliver Martin, also shared his perspective of finding balance in the digital age. He said the gift of losing his smartphone helped him regain his capacity to see and experience subtlety in everyday life and that he is not in a hurry to get another smartphone.

‘It has created real estate in my mind to see and enjoy small things. I am generally more motivated to do different things including jobs around the house,’ Oliver said.

by Toni Hassan
Toni Hassan’s book, Families in the Digital Age, is published by Hybrid.

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